Here's the Dish

healthy ANDI licious

20 Minute Dinner: Bison Burger with Mixed Greens November 9, 2010

Bison Burger with Thai Ginger Marinade: Topped with Fresh Pea Shoots and Served with Mixed Green Salad. Vitamin C from the pea shoots and greens enhances iron absorption from the burger.

Bison meat tends to be leaner and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than most beef, because the animals are fed grass instead of corn. If you’ve ever read Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you probably remember the many problems he discussed that happen when cows are fed grain (corn) diets. After reading his book, I’ve stopped buying any beef that is not 100% grass-fed when I do my grocery shopping. If you haven’t read Pollan’s book, I highly recommend it but, in short, cows are not biologically built to eat grains and doing so often makes them sick. The meat industry has decided that grain-fed cattle is advantageous because the cows will gain weight much faster than they would on a natural grass-fed diet and feed corn is extraordinarily cheep. To compensate for the health problems the cows experience, cows are routinely given antibiotics.

The result: cheep beef with higher fat content (marketed as “marbling”), lower omega-3 fatty acid content, and an unfortunate new source of antibiotics in the human diet. Antibiotics are wonderful medicines when we need them, but taking them when we don’t, or having thousands of cattle take them, benefits no one (other than of course those who are profiting on meat sales). Overuse of antibiotics breeds new, dangerous strains of bacteria and decreases the effectiveness of existing antibiotic medicines.

Grass-fed beef and bison are harder to find in stores and are often more expensive per pound. So I buy less, eat beef less often, and enjoy it more. My meal cost really isn’t much different because I change the proportion of beef to veggies (in favor of veggies) and vegetables are both cheap and filling. Another great health and cost-saving strategy is to buy less meat and add protein and fiber-rich beans to your meal. Reducing your red meat intake to about once/week and increasing your intake of vitamin and fiber-rich plants will also cut your risk for many chronic diseases that plague the U.S. including cardiovascular disease (CVD). You can easily find grass-fed beef and bison fresh at Whole Foods, but you can also find frozen bison burgers at a number of grocery stores including Trader Joe’s.

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Tracing Food to Its Roots September 13, 2010

The first chapter of Pollan's "The Botany of Desire" uncovers the surprisingly complex history of the apple. I was amazed to learn the expression "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," usually suggesting that a child is a lot like their parent, is shockingly ironic given that apple seeds, if planted, will produce a tree that is nothing like the original.

In the spring semester of my sophomore year (2009), I was completely ecstatic to learn that one of my favorite authors would be speaking at Tufts. The itunes version The Omnivore’s Dilemma had kept my long daily ride to one summer internship sane the previous summer and I could not wait to hear more of what the author of a book that unleashed the untold story of a meal would have to say.  I am referring, of course, to none other than author and journalist Michael Pollan, whose recent work has captured the nation’s attention by creating awareness of the U.S. food systems and our growing “national eating disorder.”

Pollan did not disappoint. That March his arrival packed Cohen Auditorium and he proved as dynamic a speaker as a writer. If you were there that day, you are probably fondly reminiscing by now about the incredible local and organic fare that followed in Carmichael and Dewick. (If you weren’t there but wish you were here’s your chance: Watch Pollan’s lecture at Tufts online.)

There were several key take-aways that I took for Pollan’s books ( In Defense of Food was my beach-side read one summer and The Botany of Desire has been this summer’s travel companion) and one of these has been the value of supporting local farmers. The local and organic food movements have had similar ideas–eating fresh, reducing environmental impact–but diverge in their specific regulations and modes of delivery. Local fare is intended to be just that. Many local farmers do follow practices that would be considered organic but do not have the money to pay for the USDA certification.

Certified organic fare, on the other hand, may follow organic practices perfectly but then be shipped across continents (some say the fuel/energy expended to do this defeats a great part of the purpose). I will do a post that explores more about organic and local definitions, pros and controversies soon. I believe both the organic and local food movements have their advantages (especially when combined).

If you’ve read any of Pollan’s books, seen Food Inc., or if you have a chance to watch a few minutes of the lecture, I hope you will be inspired stop by the Farmer’s Market on campus this Wednesday (and every Wednesday through 10/27). Your interest and support will encourage Tufts to continue supplying us with local fare and supporting the farming communities around us.